Changemaker Andrea Caudill is challenging business as usual to make it more sustainable and climate resilient

Changemaker Andrea Caudill is challenging business as usual to make it more sustainable and climate resilient

This is a part of a series of blog posts amplifying community voices.

In her role as a Climate and Energy Consultant at Port of Portland, Andrea Caudill is in the thick of decarbonization planning, including projects for electrification, hydrogen, sustainable aviation fuel, efficiency and renewable energy. She has also served on the Clean Air Construction regional collaborative, and Energy Trust’s own Net Zero Fellowship Advisory Board.

What drew you to your work in energy and climate?
Ever since I was a young kid, I’ve been conscious of how people and cities affect the environment. I grew up in Scottsdale, Ariz., which experienced rapid development in the 1980s and ’90s. The desert-like neighborhood I lived in had dirt roads and horses, and no sidewalks or streetlights. But it quickly became engulfed by urban development. One of the dirt roads turned into a 10-lane freeway by the time I was 20; the impact was dramatic. The rapid change also included water-intensive development like golf courses, which didn’t feel environmentally sustainable in the desert. Years later, after having kids I found myself concerned more about their generation’s future and what challenges climate change will pose, and what I can do to have an impact.

What educational path did you take to become an expert in climate and energy?
I studied architecture at Arizona State University and finished at Portland State with a bachelors in community development. I was interested in applying a community aspect to the built environment as it relates to environmental sustainability, human health and how we can responsibly create our cities.

How did your education propel you in the professional world?
It was energy and climate adjacent, at first. I got an entry level data-entry position at Portland Energy Conservation Inc. in 2004. (It has since been acquired.) They designed energy efficiency programs, and it got me in the same building as smart, passionate people who were working in energy efficiency.

It’s relatable and inspiring to hear that you didn’t get a job right away that directly applied your education or goals. But you had a front-row seat to energy efficiency strategy. Where did that lead you?
After a couple of years, I got a job at a green building services firm that did a lot of work in LEED certification. I started out as a project coordinator and later became a consultant. I became immersed in building sustainability innovation, from energy and water efficiency to green materials to waste. I had the opportunity to work on design teams for commercial construction projects across the country and internationally.

Family in forest

What have you learned about yourself in your professional roles? Has anything surprised you on your career path?
It took me a long time to believe that I could speak up about my thoughts or ideas. But where I’ve landed in my career requires that I deal with topics that I’m not an expert on—on a daily basis. We all need to be more comfortable acting with the understanding that no one is an expert. We’re all learning and moving forward.

If in any way I’m successful it’s because I’ve internalized that there will always be someone who knows more. My job is to show up, share thoughts, ask questions and connect the dots. That curiosity has been a source of success. It does take some courage to share ideas that might get shot down, but I’ve made a commitment to myself to do it anyway. I try to remember that a lot of ideas aren’t perfect or need further thinking and collaboration. It took time to build that confidence.

What excites you about your work?
It’s exciting to be in a role at Port of Portland that’s around setting and implementing our goals for carbon emission reduction. The Port has ambitious carbon reduction goals, for an organization that owns and operates an international airport and two general aviation airports, as well as marine terminals and industrial parks. We sit at the crossroads of carbon-intensive transportation industries, and the beginning of this huge energy transformation toward renewables.

In addition to combatting climate change and emissions, there is an air quality and environmental justice component to this work. Renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (diesel and jet fuel made from plants and waste oils) also benefit air quality by reducing toxic air pollutants that can impact human health and the environment. These are renewable fuels that are here today. In fact, sustainable aviation fuel can be mixed up to 50% with regular jet fuel. It’s just a matter of logistics and upstream supply chain. Renewable diesel is in use today by the Port. The air quality benefits of these renewable fuels can benefit anyone who lives or works around the Port facilities, including historically marginalized communities.

What are some challenges you’ve faced in advancing sustainability efforts in your field?
My career for years has been about changing business to make it more sustainable and climate resilient, which is a disruption. I need to spend the time to educate and illustrate the value of sustainability and decarbonization—not just bringing partners on board but also finding other champions to move the work forward faster together. The challenge of moving away from fossil fuels is real, but we can do this. Opportunities are emerging at a faster pace than ever before.

What recent changes have you seen, or do you expect to see, in your industry?
One change I hope to see and an area I’m studying right now is the use of hydrogen for electrification. Electrifying vehicles and buildings is one solution to transition from fossil fuels, but hydrogen gives us another option. Not to mention that if we lose fuel diversification, power outages could be devastating.

If you had unlimited resources, what is the one thing you would focus on that you may not currently be able to?
I’d invest in more solar projects. They can be challenging to site, and expensive, but otherwise they are extremely reliable and can be localized to expedite energy resilience and the greening of the grid.

Do you have any advice for people who want a career that makes a difference?
Seeds of change can be planted in conversations and decisions made at any job. You don’t have to show up in a big, flashy way; I certainly don’t. But I am passionate and love working with people. Every conversation can have that seed of sharing critical information that gets shared elsewhere, which can be the root of how meaningful change happens.